The Beat Scene in Northern Ireland

An exciting beat music scene emerged in Northern Ireland centred on Belfast’s Maritime Hotel

While The Beatles, The Kinks and The Who were blazing a trail across the Irish Sea, and showbands were packing in excess of 1000 dancers into ballrooms and marquees throughout Ireland, an exciting beat music scene emerged in Northern Ireland, centred on Belfast’s Maritime Hotel.

When the Monarchs Showband broke up, Van Morrison and a few friends formed Them, who took up residency at The Maritime, singing and playing the blues into the early hours. In 1964 the group moved to London and released ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’/‘Gloria’, which reached No 6 in the British charts. Jimmy Page reputedly played guitar on the recording. Their second single ‘Here Comes The Night’/’All For Myself’ reached No 2 in April 1965. They also released two albums, Angry Young Them in 1965, and Them Again in 1966.

Other beat groups playing in Belfast clubs in the early 1960s included The Few, The Bats, The Idiom, The Luvin’ Kind, The Method, The Misfits, The Telstars, Moses K and The Prophets, The Tremors, The Vaqueros, Teddy and The Tigers, The Klan, Just Five and The Alleykatz.

Moses K and The Prophets released one single on the Decca label, ‘I Went Out With My Baby Tonight’/’So Long’. Then, in the mid 60s, Moses K (Kenny McDowell) and The Prophets parted company, and the group continued as The Mad Lads, with Billy Williamson taking over as lead vocalist. The Mad Lads were an excellent live band, with a repertoire much influenced by Them, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson. They had a minor hit with ‘Answer Your Phone’.

The Wheels, comprised of Herbie Armstrong, Rod Demick, Brian Rossi, Tito Tisley and Victor Catling, formed in Belfast in the early 60s, but later moved to Blackpool. The first single, an interpretation of Van Morrison’s ‘Gloria’, did not make the Irish or British charts, and although it was also released in the USA, it lost out there to a version of the same song by The Shadows Of Knight. The Wheels also released ‘Bad Little Woman’/’Road Block’ and ‘Kicks’/’Call My Name’. Herbie Armstrong and Rod Demick went on to record two albums and two singles as the James Brothers, before Demick joined Bees Make Honey and Armstrong concentrated on session work.

The Bats were another hugely popular Belfast group. The line-up featured Jim Dunning on lead guitar, Barry Jorman on vocals and guitar, Paul Ditchfield on bass guitar, and Eddie Eckstein on drums. The Bats released four singles, ‘Accept It’ / ‘Love Lies Sleeping’ on the Columbia label (1964) and three on the Decca label, ‘Listen To My Heart’/‘Stop, Don’t Do It’ (1966), ‘You Will Now Won’t You’/‘You Look Good Together’ and ‘Hard To Get Up In The Morning’/’Take Me As I Am’ (1967).

The Detours from Bangor, The Planets from Lisburn, The Styx and The Extreme from Newtownabbey, and The Aztecs, The Wheels, Taxi, Phred, Sneaky Pete and The Hawgs also played clubs around Northern Ireland. The legendary Belfast blues guitarist Gary Moore joined Skid Row and later Thin Lizzy in Dublin. Another Belfast guitarist, Eric Bell, was a founder member of Thin Lizzy, playing on their first three albums: his is the famous, often emulated, guitar intro on their first hit single, ‘Whiskey In The Jar’.

In Belfast, Eric was a member of The Bluebeats, The Earth Dwellers, The Atlantics and The Jaguars. Having left Thin Lizzy, he formed his own band, Shades of Blue. However, John Farrell, lead singer with one of Dublin’s top beat-groups, The Movement, offered Eric the lucrative position as lead guitarist in his new showband, The Dreams, and Eric moved back to Dublin. ‘I Will See You There’, their first single, made the Irish charts.

In 1967, Them were replaced as The Maritime’s resident band by a relatively unknown three-piece called Taste. Led by Ballyshannon born blues guitarist Rory Gallagher, Taste featured Eric Kitteringham on bass and Norman d’Amery on drums. Their potential was recognised by promoter Eddie Kennedy, and Van Morrison regularly came to hear them play. Two Northern Ireland musicians joined Gallagher in the second incarnation of Taste when Kitteringham and d’Amery decided to leave the group. Drummer John Wilson and bassist Richie McCracken had been members of Derrick and The Sounds Showband in Omagh, and had left to form a progressive rock group similar to Eric Clapton’s Cream. They teamed up with Roy Abbott on guitar and Nicko Halliwelll on the organ, who had left Lisburn group The Interns.

Another famous beat-group was The People from Portadown. The line-up featured Mike Cox on guitar, Ernie Graham on vocals and guitar, Chris Stewart on bass and Dave Lutton on drums. Cox was replaced by Portstewart’s Henry McCullough from Gene and The Gents, and their name was changed to Éire Apparent. Their album Sunset is still much sought after by record collectors.

Dino Martin and Big Daddy were Belfast’s top disc jockeys at that time. In 1997, Big Beat Records released a compilation CD featuring tracks recorded by beat groups who played at The Maritime Hotel called Belfast Beat: Maritime Blues. Included on the album are tracks from The Alleykatz (‘Chicago Calling’), The Bats (‘On The Waterfront’), Them (‘Don’t Start Crying Now’), The Mad Lads (‘Little Queenie’), The Luvin’ Kind (‘It’s A Cruel World’), The Wheels (‘Kicks’), The People (‘I’m With You’), Just Five (‘Well, Don’t That Beat Them All’) and Moses K and The Prophets (‘I Went Out With My Baby Tonight’).

© Francis Kaye